Monday, 25 March 2013

The Sunday "Volta"

Sometimes a day does go right. Not often, but sometimes! Sunday 24th March (yesterday) was such a day. It even started with a nice little visitor allowing me to take his picture in the garden. Can you spot him..?


I've lost count of the number of days when we'd planned to go to Haraki for lunch this past winter, but haven't done so due to the weather not having been right. I know I always bang on about how every week in the winter we enjoy some sunshine, but it's true to say that it hasn't been too often on a Sunday during this one!

So today it was brill to wake up to wall-to-wall sunshine, "p'akri s'akri" as our favourite TV weatherman Sakkis usually says when he sweeps his hands across the weather map for Greece during the summer. "P'akri s'akri" is an abbreviation for "από άκρη σε άκρη [apo akri se akri]" which means, "from edge to edge, side to side", or even "end to end". Anyway, whatever, ...it was "p'akri s'akri" yesterday and very welcome it was too. Especially since we hear that the weather in the UK still seems to think it's mid-winter. After washing the car and my wife doing a good stint at weeding the gravel paths in the garden, we hung out a line of washing and headed for our favourite waterfront spot, Haraki. The car's outside temperature reading was a very respectable 19ºC.

Before sitting down at Bottoms Up [see the Ideas page] for some lunch, we strolled all along the lane behind the seafront to the far end and then back along the front itself, all the while with me irritating the missus no end as I whipped the camera out every few yards. Come on guys, when you write a blog you simply have to keep that camera on the hip, eh? After all, this is what we saw along the way...

Ferakos Castle looking superb against the blue



See? I bet you're glad I took the camera with me, anyway.

Arriving at Bottoms Up we found Vasili and his son sitting at a table in the sunshine and they rose together to greet us. Apparently Despina's in Oz at the moment and will be back for the season. I asked Vasili if he and Savvas (their son) had had a holiday this winter and Vasili replied, "Of course we have" whilst gesturing with his hands to his surroundings as if to say, "life here's a holiday" even though for them it isn't really.

We seated ourselves at a table in the sunshine and ordered a delicious smoked salmon salad, a tuna club sandwich, a Mythos for me and a frappe for her. Well, someone has to, eh? I've just read a bit on Tripadvisor about Bottoms Up, and I have to say that one bloke gets it very wrong. He apparently lives in L.A., which I believe is somewhere in America? Anyway, he seems to think that the place only caters for British tourists these days. He obviously came on an off-day. Yea, sure, they do get their fair share of the UK contingent, but arguably the real year-round watering hole for these is Haraki Dreams, and it's none the worse for it. Sitting here yesterday there wasn't an English voice to be heard and that's often also the case during the summer too. Despite being popular with the Brits, Haraki Dreams too gets a full helping of Greeks as well.

I've often said myself that the name used to put me off, but having overcome my aversion to that little problem, I don't need to mention again (but will anyway) that it's simply a great place to have a snack or drink. It doesn't pretend to be a taverna, it's a bar that does snacks.

So, not intending to bang on yet again about how good the food is for the price, I'll show you a little photo. Sorry (in advance), but I did the thing I always used to when I was allowed to play with my dad's old Box Brownie when I was a kid and got a finger in the way when I took this one, but - just to make you salivate...

Smoked salmon salad to the left, tuna club sandwich to the right. Mythos off-picture. Wife's hand(s) just a little further away!
After we'd been there a while the real floor show began, and how we loved it. Sunday is traditional "Volta" [stroll, walk, outing] day for Greek families and this one brought them out in their droves. Before long a less than half-full bar was packed to the gills and we were enjoying the usual Greek custom of parents taking turns to run after their kids, usually frantically.

Most of the women (even those that were evidently the grandmas) were in jeans you could have sworn were painted on, stiletto heels and leather jackets over woollen jumpers. The men sported trainers, jeans or tracksuit bottoms and sweatshirts, plus the occasional leather jacket too. A family of four adults and an indeterminable number of three-to-five-year-olds plonked themselves at the table just behind us and the fun got under way. I say an indeterminable number because the little angels didn't stay still long enough for us to count.

Whilst the adults exchanged seats a few times before finally arriving at an acceptable permutation, the children set about tearing off toward the edge of the promenade, where, of course, there's a six foot drop to the sand and shingle beach. Every twenty feet or so there are steps leading down, but, needless to say, the parents were immediately on edge about the fact that the kids were on the loose and well likely to come the proverbial cropper if left to their own devices.

So, the pleasant afternoon's sojourn at the seaside bar was to be punctuated for the parents by alternative visits to the promenade or beach to return, usually with a toddler in either hand, whereupon, once they'd arrived back at the table the little angels would immediately rush off again. If, say, it had been the mum who'd gone the previous time, then this time, after they'd had a couple of minutes chat, the dad would be up and out of his chair, edge past our table, stand on the front and, cupping his hand to his mouth yell, "Foti!!! get back here!!" Of course, little Fotis would do nothing of the sort and dad would soon be down on the shingle at the water's edge, just managing to catch his son before the child went for a paddle in his Sunday best. Woe betide any cat that decided to turn up at the front today, too. It would soon be racing under tables and behind chairs to escape little hands eager to squeeze the life out of the poor moggie for fun.

It's very entertaining and, this may sound strange, heartwarming. Why? Well, because it demonstrates that the culture is alive and well. Parents don't go off to the pub on Sunday and leave the kids with grandma, or a babysitter. No, grandma and granddad come too and so do the kids. Whenever someone they know turns up it's all stand up, hugs, kisses, "Kalos irthate!" and "Kalos sas vrikate!" and stuff. Wonderful.

Following our exceptionally good first course, I felt a weak moment coming on. Well, a) it was still early and b) we were so enjoying the floor show. So I ordered a crèpe with Nutella and ice cream. Another great touch that's common over here is that, even if you order one dish, they'll often still bring you two sets of cutlery. there's no attitude like "Huh, cheapskates!! Why don't they order one each?" No, they accept that whatever you order is what you want and don't have any problem if you plan to share your dessert. Frankly, when you see the size of the crèpe you get at Bottoms Up, you'll not want one each if you fancy your chances of being able to walk afterwards...


It's at times like this when it would almost be useful to be a Catholic. I mean, a couple of Hail Marys and I could struggle back to the car with a clean conscience, eh?

Ah well, as I type this I'm wondering how many layers I'm going to have to put on come Wednesday, when we'll be EasyJetting off to the UK to visit my mum. Brrr!

Thursday, 21 March 2013

In Stock For Immediate Delivery

Just occasionally something small can remind one of the differences in daily life and culture that one experiences when living somewhere like this. Just recently I had occasion to visit Pandeli's DIY store in the village close by, where both my wife and I never fail to receive a warm welcome, usually including a hug and the customary two-cheeked kiss.

Well, there you have one instance right away. When we lived in South Wales there was a brilliant DIY store, which you'd really have wanted to call an "ironmongers", situated in a small country town about the same distance from our house as Pandeli's store is from our home out here. I especially loved the counter over which the proprietor would serve his customers. It was a solid slab of wood (oak maybe?) which was quite evidently decades old and bore the scars to prove it. It was riven with marks and stains born of years of having had handfuls of iron nails and wood-screws placed upon it, perhaps hand tools and gardening tools, even bundles of kindling wood, which to the last time I visited the place would still be seen piled up either side of the store's entrance during the winter months. There was an ancient brass rule screwed to the surface for measuring lengths of who-knows-what, perhaps electrical cable and suchlike. The people who owned that store were always friendly and courteous, but the very idea of them calling out "Aah, kalos to! How are we today, and how is Maria, OK?" whilst they also embraced me in a bear hug and planted a kiss on both of my cheeks, would have been totally foreign. Yet just down the road out here, if I want to purchase a can of wood varnish, it'll involve such a welcome without a shadow of doubt.

Pandeli and his wife Maria are warm, humble folk for whom nothing is too much trouble. I'm also amused to see that, whenever I reach the stage where my little clutch of purchases is ready to be tallied up, the total will be worked out either on a little scrap of paper, or in my host's head and then he'll round it down a bit before declaring the sum I am to pass over in payment.

What really prompted this post though, is something quite small that nevertheless amused me, in fact elicited an audible chuckle as I ambled along the racks in search of a brass bracket or some such the other day. I often take the time to just scan the shelves and displays because quite often I'll come across something and say to myself, "Aha! I wanted one of those!". That way at least when I get home I'm less likely to curse myself for having missed an opportunity yet again to make maximum use of the visit.

So, after the usual salutations and my declaration that I needed to browse a while, I left my host and his wife to see to their cute little dog, who's by the way rather strangely but nevertheless cutely called Laura, and to greet and serve a local man, and began perusing the goods on offer. In among the reels of varying gauges of metal chain, awaiting the customer's choosing of a desired length to be cut, the dusty displays of gardening gloves and hand implements, the tubes of mastic and silicone sealant, there was something which caught my eye and had me bemused for a moment. A bunch of what looked like big brass tulips, but with no centres, was hanging "upsidedown" at about eye level. For a few seconds I stared at this strange collection, not at all sure what it was. Then it struck me, they were goat bells!!


Image courtesy of David Bell's blog, HERE.

On closer inspection I saw that they did indeed have "clappers" within them and small rings soldered to the top end, through which was threaded a length of twine to hold them in place for display purposes.

Yea, well, I suppose someone may argue that in deepest Cumbria or the furthest reaches of West Wales I may have found something similar. But I bet a penny to a pound that they're not on the computer's stock list at your local B&Q or Home Depot all that often.

Call me daft but, with all the goats that wander the hills on a Greek island, it hadn't dawned on me until that moment that the goatherds had to buy their new bells somewhere!

Fork handle anyone? (By the way, you'll only get that last comment if you remember a particular old comedy sketch on UK TV from the seventies.)

Friday, 15 March 2013

Early Morning Call?

A couple of days ago, I was just swimming woozily out of a convoluted, surreal dream, as per usual, at some time around 7.30am, when my wife nudged me and said, "Hear that? He must be right outside!"

Now, I rather like it when she nudges me and says, "Cup of tea?", whereupon I just about manage to lift my head up far enough to see a steaming cup of Earl Grey and a digestive biscuit sitting alluringly on the bedside cabinet, but, BUT! This wasn't one of those occasions. Mind you, I did indeed hear something and it did too sound like it was coming from right outside the bedroom window.

At this time of year we can get lucky with bird spotting. It's a migratory route this East coast of Rhodes and we've had some pretty spectacular strokes of luck over the years (Rock Thrushes, Storks, Red-footed Falcons); but sometimes it's just a resident bird that excites us by giving us a chance to get up close and personal, as it were, albeit unwittingly. In the last week we've had some excellent views of a pair of Siskin, flocks of Goldfinches, various birds of prey ranging from the Kestrel to the Golden Eagle, then there are Hooded Crows galore, Black Redstarts, Crested Larks and Blackbirds, the last of which is now singing sublimely in the valley every day at dusk. The song of the blackbird is truly one of the natural world's greatest and most uplifting delights and we can look forward to hearing it right through until August, as indeed can most residents of the UK who don't live deep in the urban sprawl.

One bird that usually only grants one a view of its back as it scampers along the ground before achieving lift-off and soaring at very low level around a few bushes before once more going to ground is the Chukar. Now, you can go all the way to Hawaii to watch this bird, but there's really no need because they are resident here on Rhodes. The Chukar is a member of the pheasant/partridge family (no relation to David Cassidy. Now kids, ask your parents, they'll tell you. That's if they're not too embarrassed to own up that they know who he was). If you only get the rear view (the bird now, not Mr. Cassidy) you can easily mistake this most exquisitely-coloured bird for a common or garden partridge. But get a chance to see him or her from the front, get a view of the head or chest and there's no mistaking what you're looking at - and at half past seven the other morning, having had the bedclothes pulled back from my reluctant body and been told to go and get the camera before it flies away - the bird that is, not the camera. Ours is most definitely of the non-flying variety - I found myself actually thanking my better half for driving me to it. The window blind was only six inches up from the bottom and I had to snap it through the glass, but the familiar "chuka-chuka-chuka" sound was indeed coming from the rock on the "cliff" just behind the house.

I got this...




Go on, admit it, he's very handsome. Can't rustle up a pot of Earl Grey though, so... handsome yes, but clever? the jury's out.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Something to go with your next cup of tea...

OK, so perhaps I'll be tried for treason due to having breached the Official Secrets Act, but due to a veritable trickle of demand, I've decided to share with the world the recipe for the wonderful Greek Olive Oil Cake which my wife makes. It's so easy that even I could probably do it. Don't think I'll test that theory out though. After all, she does it so well and there's always a supply on hand.

It ought to look something like this...

The dark bits are dried dates which can be added to taste. You could always add sultanas or raisins if you like.

The top should be everso slightly crispy - yum!

So, what do you do? Here goes...

500g self-raising flour. Or, as my wife prefers, plain flour along with 4 teaspoons of baking powder, which the Greeks rather amusingly call "mbaikin powdair".

1 cup of olive oil
1 cup of sugar (though my wife uses only three-quarters of a cupful)
1 cup of milk
(if you elect to use soya milk, then it's a vegan recipe)
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cloves
Plus a little dash (!!!) of white wine or orange juice. I keep recommending perhaps Malibu, Metaxa or something, but she won't listen!!

Mix it up well, shove it into a loaf tin and bung it in the oven at 160ºC for 45 minutes.

Next, boil the kettle and brew a nice pot of Earl Grey. Pour into bone china cups (Oh, all right then, we use a couple of thick mugs - they hold more!!)

Slice cake and place on small plate. Serve beside the tea (if you're really feeling sinful, smear Nutella on the slice of cake before serving!!)

Now, possibly owing to the fact that my better half uses a reduced amount of sugar, ours is often quite crumbly. Who cares, it tastes fabulous!!

I shall expect some feedback from you folks out there!!!

Monday, 4 March 2013

Boisterous on the Beach in the Bay (!!)

Yesterday morning (Sunday March 3rd) was very stormy and wet, whilst the afternoon turned out sunny and warm and I washed the car in my shorts and a T-shirt! As evening wore on we walked down to the beach. 

The photos below are the result of that walk...

Please do click on this one, then right click on the larger image to get a much larger view. The spray floating up from the water's edge is quite beautiful

The sea always takes up to a day to calm down after a storm

Didn't notice my own shadow when I snapped this one!
As you'll probably have gathered, the word "boisterous" in the caption for this post refers to the sea, not to me!!

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Snooker on a Saturday Morning

I'm making my way to the back of the cafe, since I need to go to the loo, and I glance up at the TV screen burning away to my right on the wall in the indoor section of the establishment. Neil Robertson is building a respectable break in some snooker tournament somewhere else on the planet; probably the far East, as all kinds of indecipherable oriental symbols form a line along the top of the screen. I'm struck by the weirdness of such a moment.

We'd just been to a rather sad, yet nevertheless for us profitable, house clearance sale. I say sad, because the rather lovely, homely British lady at whose home the sale was taking place is moving back to the UK, since she rather suddenly very recently and unexpectedly lost her partner and can't afford to stay here any more. At least the cash we placed in her palm will help her as she makes yet another huge change in her life. As for us, we're on our way home with a car-full of useful stuff. We've got some new bakeware, a huge "tapsi" [Greek for baking tray of sorts] which my wife was delighted about as the one she's been using isn't quite big enough, a rather swish toastie-making machine, some earthenware dishes suitable for serving up salads and things, a whole pile of recent paperbacks, some decent booze and more besides. All together a rather satisfying morning's browsing amongst mostly other ex-pat Brits.

So, here we are now in Lardos village, stopping for a frappe on a rather pleasant sunny morning and I've just been to see Kyria Stamatia in the bakery. As usual she regaled me with tales of how her son and daughter-in-law are going to be the death of her. Too much stress for her very weak heart, she tells me. The doctor told her she mustn't get stressed out. "Think I'll move back to Germany" she says, only partly in jest, whilst she hands me a delicious "Psomi" together with a complimentary "koulouri" to go with our coffees...

Photo courtesy: http://www.seriouseats.com/2009/07/snapshots-from-greece-koulouri-greek-cookies-bread-thessaloniki.html

We flop down at a table outside the fairly new cafe called Cafe Megusto, just along from Roula's taverna, and my wife begins a conversation with an elderly lady called Loula at the adjacent table. Papa Savvas (The village priest) walks by and waves. I wave back and call out a greeting, but then realise that he was hailing Kyria Loula, not me. I won't go down that road here, but he's not my favourite person on the planet. Tales you hear, things that happen, you know the drill I'm sure. Anyway, we'd noticed this cafe a few times and up until now never gone in for a coffee. But this morning it just looked like the right place to sit, and it was. The frappes arrive and they're delicious. I take a few slurps from my straw and then get up to go to the loo, and so we're back to my opening comments above. Neil Robertson, at the top of his game. Must feel good. Mind you, the idea of being in a different part of the globe every other week doesn't appeal to me one iota. He's welcome to that side of his life.

It's just odd isn't it, how sometimes a millisecond causes a reverie. Here I am in a Greek village on a Greek island and there in front of my eyes is a snooker table and a young Australian stalking confidently around it, cue in hand, entirely oblivious to some of the places to which his image is beaming live from innumerable TV screens the planet over. Funny old world we now live in with all this technology.

Cafe Megusto is very nice. It's not large, but it's very tastefully decorated and presented and the young thirty-something proprietor, also called Savvas, is quick to attend to his new arrivals to take their order with a pleasant smile and a "kalos orisate!". His two little girls are playing out front with their dolls and a big pink plastic bath (which plays a tinny electronic tune) and we're soon having near-coronaries as they frequently stride out into the road to play with the bright pink motor scooter that's parked a few feet out from the cafe's kerb. Not that this road is hugely busy, but it's nevertheless not a good idea for toddlers of only four or five to be sitting in the middle, pretending to bathe their naked plastic baby doll, whilst humming Greek folk tunes that they learn in school, when a farmer approaches in his pickup loaded with firewood. Eventually mum comes out and drags them back and threatens them to try and ensure that they stay within the confines of the cafe's terrace. Not sure if her threats will have any lasting effect though. Before long one of the children is sitting on the motor scooter's saddle, feet dangling about eighteen inches from the footboard, hands on the handlebars and making "vroom-vroom" noises.

After a very acceptable half-hour or so of conversation with kyria Loula, whom we discover had lived in Toronto for a few decades before retiring back here to her home village (a familiar story in these parts, all over Greece in fact) we leave the appropriate amount of coins on the table and return to the car for the short drive home.

No snooker on our TV when we get home. Mind you, we'll be visiting my mum in the UK in just a few weeks time and the World Championship will then get under way in Sheffield. It'll be all over the British TV for a couple of weeks. Worth going home for I'd say.